Narrator, director, producer: Gilbert is a master of all things digital, whether in her home studio or when recording titles for a spectrum of top publishers. If you’ve never listened to an audio featuring her, here’s a perfect place to start: Gilbert narrated The Adults by Alison Espach, one of the thirteen top adult audiobooks on Booklist’s2011 Editors’ Choice list. So when I wanted to learn about an insider’s reaction to the changes as audiobook technology shifts in the digital world, I knew that Tavia Gilbert would be able to provide a unique perspective. My interview with Gilbert below made me think about the role of libraries & librarians as we shift from a world of physical materials to circulating downloadable audiobooks. I hope you’ll find some new thoughts to ponder, as well.
This interview came about when I asked five industry pros about the shift from studio production teams to solo narrators recording in home studios for my January “Voices in My Head” column in Booklist. Their answers are so thoughtful that I want to share every word with you, before the column with their abridged remarks appears next month. I’ve already featured Paul Gagne, of Weston Woods/Scholastic Audio. Next up are Johnny Heller, Barbara Rosenblat, and Paul Ruben – one each week in alphabetical order.
Thanks to Tavia Gilbert for sharing her thoughts here on Audiobooker!
Tavia, you have an interesting and varied background, from home-studio narrator to studio producer in your honored career. As many narrators create home studios, what do you feel is the shift in the industry that is driving this change? Are there challenges for females who wish to take on the technical aspects of audio?
TG: The easiest answer is that the shift has been inspired by an effort to cut costs, to respond to the (relatively) new efficiencies of the download market. It’s much more cost effective to produce an audiobook recording in an efficient home studio with an actor/director/engineer than to lease time in a fully-equipped recording studio and employ an actor and a director and an engineer. Audiobooks on CD might be priced higher than the hardback print version, while a downloadable MP3 audiobook can’t support that price point, since there is no tangible deliverable. Digital technology has enabled audiobooks to be produced far more quickly and cheaply than ever before, so now voice actors can effectively engineer their own work, rather than relying on an audio engineer, and some voice actors are proficient enough to master the recording, as well.
The entire publishing world is transitioning from large companies dominating the field to a marketplace that allows small presses and individual publisher/producers to flourish. Whether the medium is music, print books, film, art, audiobooks or anything else, there is much more opportunity for independent artists to have autonomy and success.
I doubt it is just women voice artists who are challenged by the technical aspects of audio. Audio equipment can be finicky. While basic audio engineering is relatively simple, advanced engineering and mastering are complex and subtle. Skill with both hardware and software is required. The audio engineering world is male-dominated, so that can be challenging. I’ve been very blessed to have a friend who is a master engineer help me every step of the way. Not only is he highly trained and experienced, he is an exceptional teacher who has remained committed to empowering me to be independent and self-reliant. Someone with that ability would be a blessing to any independent voice actor/narrator, whether male or female.
What do you see as the positive and negative aspects of recording with an audiobook production team in a recording studio versus solo recording in a home studio?
TG: Recording in a studio with a team of people is luxurious. It’s wonderful to have no other responsibility than the voice acting, to be able to relax and simply perform. It’s a pleasure to work with a director whose ear is attuned to the overall arc of the story, someone who can attend to character voice consistency and phrasing, who can make suggestions about pacing, dialect, tone, etc. Having someone ‘on book’ is fantastic, so that when the recording is complete, there are no pick-ups. It’s a relief when someone else takes over the engineering duty, so that my focus is not split. However, it can be lovely to work alone, too, if a little lonely. When I’m in my studio on my own, I’m completely in charge of my time — when I start and stop my work day, when I eat, when I take a break. It can be a little frustrating to have to adhere to someone else’s schedule, especially when each day is different; some days I can record for three hours before I need a meal, other days I need to eat every other hour in order to keep going. When I’m working alone, I allow myself more room to experiment than someone else might give me, so that I can play with a character voice or the pacing. I’m performing alone, so I never feel foolish when I try something new. I think an ideal career is one in which there is work in each style — sometimes recording in a studio with a team, sometimes working solo. Each stretches and pushes and demands something different of the actor.
As audiobooks move from a physical edition created by a team of narrator plus a studio production team to a digital-only edition created by a smaller team or perhaps a solo narrator/producer, how do you see these changes impacting the decisions that must be made by librarians evaluating and selecting audiobooks for library patrons?
TG: I think librarians’ skill and taste will become more valuable, because more than ever, they will be called upon to curate, not simply collect, content. New publisher/producers are flooding the marketplace, and they may not yet have a reputation that would allow a quick, confident decision about acquisition. Thus, the demands on a librarian’s time will be much greater, as they have to screen content for quality and consistency in a way they might not have been called to do when the audiobook was distributed on CD from a reputable publisher. However, it’s great news, too, I believe, because smaller publishers can afford to be more flexible and experimental with their content, producing and distributing titles and genres that wouldn’t before have been made available. Librarians will continue to hear traditional titles and styles available, as well as discovering gems in the mix — exciting, new, high-quality content, including full-cast work and cross-genre productions.
Care to reflect on the impact of the impact of Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange or other possible major shifts in the industry that solo home recording or digital technology makes possible?
TG: Oh, this is a big question. It’s still early days for ACX, and for royalty-share models. I think ACX and the explosion of home studios will continue to divide the traditional audiobook industry, allowing the cream to rise to the top. I anticipate having a small number of voice actors who continue to be recognized for their excellence, while great numbers of narrators produce adequate, average work. But I think home studios will also spark innovation and unique partnerships between artists who are eager to create sound art.
Any other information that you feel is important for librarians to know about in relation to these topics?
TG: It will be to everyone’s benefit if channels to communicate and share with librarians are open and receptive. Imagine when a devoted audio artist has developed a project they’re passionate about, and they can let the very best audience — the librarian listener — know they have a masterpiece!